Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Thoughts on Omsk...

Good Day Everybody,

So now that there are people on both coasts reading this I can no longer direct my greetings only to those living in Pacific Standard Time. Therefore: Good day.

About 2 hours ago Ed and I arrived in Irkutsk (at the end of our 40 hour train trip) and were driven to our hotel, Baikalskie Terema. Which, in case you were curious, is pronounced nothing like it looks. Ed's upstairs napping as we both got a fairly limited sleep last night. Our first night on the train landed us about 10 hours of sleep or so, but after a day of inactivity it just wasn't in the cards for us on the second evening. So we filled our time talking about rowing. Go figure.

The images below belong to our time in Omsk. I have to say, it took me a considerable amount of time to like the place. Our first day was grey, and bleak...much like the city itself. All their old buildings were torn down under the Soviet regime and replaced with wonderfully colored apartment complexes. Wonderfully colored being a euphamism for 7 different shades of grey. Everything in the city dates within the last 50 years and almost all of it is uninviting. In the past two decades they've attempted to spruce the place up a bit by constructing a shopping street (care to guess what it's called? That's right, Lenin Street) in a traditional style. So a lot of winter palace esque looking buildings were actually done in the last ten years or so. Our guided tour of Omsk consisted of driving for a 100 meters, stopping and having our lady turn around and ask, "Do you want to get out and take a picture of this monument?" Here Ed and I turn and look upon one of many, identical monuments that dot the city. "Really, you guys should get out and take a picture, this is a very nice monument." No, actually it's about the same as the last dozen, but OK, when in Rome...

For the record, there have got to be more monuments per capita in Russia than in all other nations of the world combined. It's a bit absurd really, every event in their history seems to deserve a bridge, 5 churches, 2 public parks, 11 buildings and 193.45 monuments. But I digress; the tour did conclude with a walk through the Dostoyevsky museum. I will save my comments on that for some other time, but let me just say I am probably now one of the top 100 most informed people ever to have lived on the life and times of Fodor Dostoyevsky. I even know which way he turned upon entering Omsk for the start of his 4 year sentence (left in case you were curious).

That night and much of the following day we virtually lived in a restaurant which used to be called the Journalist. Its walls are decorated with pictures of journalists and the ceiling has hundreds of newspapers throughout time plastered to it. However, the place changed its name to the Graforman in the last year or so. The word Graforman in Russian means someone who loves literature, loves to write, but isn't a successful writer. It has a negative conotation. Ed and I ate 3 of our 4 meals in Omsk there and discovered they do some mean sushi, good borscht, a decent roast trout (whole trout of course) and a shit steak. Also, this was our first encounter with menus that were completely void of some other language; in all other restaurants we'd been fortunate to have the menus come with English, German or French translations, here...not so much.

However, our second night in the capital of No Where redeemed the city entirely. At the recommendation of our concierge we went to a "club" called Atlantida. This place was ridiculous. The Russians really like to mix their forms of entertainment and thus the place had two bars, a casino, a strip club and a massive dance floor. Apparently bowling alleys and pool halls could also be found in there. There had to be well over 2000 people there and I'm not sure all of them were 18...but in Russia as long as you say you're old enough, and halfway look it, they will let you in. This club was our first experience of near-stardom.

As you might imagine there aren't a whole lot of tourists in the middle of Siberia this time of year, and to imagine this, you would be correct, there aren't. After about two hours in Atlantida everyone knew that there were two foreigners in there, that they were wearing blazers and that they had beards. (Side cultural note: Russian men don't seem to grow out their beards...any of them, so we're really easy to spot). People would come up to us and ask to have their pictures taken with us, or to buy us drinks or simply to stroke our beards. Speaking of beard-stroking we learned that a certain style of beard stroking is actually a highly innappropriate gesture...good to know...

At any rate, Ed fell in love (and then wrote a song called "I Left My Heart in Omsk"; nothing rhymes with that by the way), I got to talk to the concierge for a couple hours and we both got to be mini-celebrities for a while. Then, as with all good things, it had to end and we walked back to our hotel (at 5 am). The next afternoon we boarded the train for the last leg of our journey via the Baikal Express, train 10. A journey I will tell you all about later today, however I must go as our tour is about to start.

Hello from Listvyanka,


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